Matra Company's sports division under the name of Matra Sports, Equipe Matra Elf and Equipe Matra Sports (after a takeover by Simca in 1969 as Matra-Simca Division Automobile) was formed in 1965 and based at Champagne-sur-Seine (1965–1967), Romorantin-Lanthenay (1967–1969) and Vélizy-Villacoublay (1969–1979). In 1979 the sports division was taken over by Peugeot and renamed as Automobiles Talbot.
In the mid-1960s, Matra enjoyed considerable success in Formula 3 and F2 racing, particularly with the MS5 monocoque-based car, winning the French and European championships. In 1967, Jacky Ickx surprised the F1 establishment by posting the third-fastest qualifying time of 8:14" at the German Nürburgring in his 1600cc Matra MS7 F2, which was allowed to enter alongside the 3000cc F1 cars. In the race, he failed to finish due to a broken suspension.
Matra entered Formula One in 1968 when Jackie Stewart was a serious contender, winning several Grands Prix in the Tyrrell-run Matra MS10 which competed alongside the works team.
Matra CEO Jean-Luc Lagardère made a strategic decision for the 1969 championship: the Matra works team would not compete in Formula One. Matra would instead focus its efforts on Ken Tyrrell's privateer team (renamed Matra International) and build a new DFV powered car with structural fuel tanks, even though it would only be eligible for a single season. The decision was even more radical given that Matra was seeking a partnership with Simca, which would preclude using Ford-branded engines for the following year. Stewart won the 1969 title easily with the new Cosworth-powered Matra MS80, which was designed by Gérard Ducarouge and Bernard Boyer, and corrected most of the weaknesses of the MS10. It was a spectacular achievement from a constructor that had only entered Formula One the previous year. France became only the third country (after the United Kingdom and Italy) to have produced a winning constructor, and Matra became the only constructor to have won the Constructors' Championship without running its own works team.